Who will win, who should, and who weren’t even invited.
With the 2015 Emmy Awards, covering the best of the 2014-2015 television season, airing tomorrow night — I thought I’d to take a look through the categories and weigh in with some subjective, biased, and fanboy thoughts on those who deserve recognition for some of the truly excellent television to which audiences were treated this past year. Back when the nominees were announced earlier this summer, we found ourselves in the same internet-fuelled uproar that arises every single year — in which we absurdly expect the voters to miraculously start getting everything right. As the Academy is comprised of those who actually create television — an incredibly consuming endeavour — and with the proliferation of platforms and all the original content being produced, one can somewhat understand that the voting body as a whole lacks the in-depth knowledge of the entire marketplace that critics enjoy (as reviewing all that content is their primary function) and often defers to more popular, publicized series, regardless of the merits of such shows’ current offerings. And beyond that, the older, more established, and predominantly male demographics which constitute the majority of the voting block are (often like the Oscar voters) somewhat out-of-touch and at odds with what is fresh, original, and perhaps the most deserving. But at the very least, the yearly uproar around the Emmys gives amateur and professional critics alike the opportunity to focus the landscape, provide agreement or dissent, and create a kind of cultural sphere that defines what, by and large, really is considered the best. And it’s perhaps within this wider critical sphere, that the “most deserving” shows, writers, and performers should find the most valuable recognition. Adding to the endless articles with the same premise popping up this past week, you’ll find my thoughts on the major categories after the jump. I’ve picked my projected winners, my personal favourites, and what I consider to be the biggest omissions from the dance.
Outstanding Drama Series //
Better Call Saul, Downton Abbey, Game of Thrones, Homeland, House of Cards, Mad Men, Orange Is the New Black.
With Breaking Bad now dead and gazing up into the the precious baby blue beyond, this year’s field is wide open. Mad Men may be the immediate favourite — both by sentiment and inarguable merit — but it’s far from a sure thing. Matthew Weiner’s masterpiece, after flagging in season six (though “flagging” for Mad Men still keeps it neck-and-neck with the best on TV), enjoyed a strong finish — ending on a beautifully satisfying high-note and securing its place (as if it was ever in doubt) in the pantheon of all-time great television. Mad Men‘s my personal pick and it’s the odds-on favourite to win, but I wouldn’t put it past Emmy voters to go with an upset. They tend to love whatever is shiny and new (if it has the right pedigree), and Better Call Saul — brilliant in its own right — is certainly shiny, new, and has the added momentum of Breaking Bad‘s recent domination of the awards. Game of Thrones has earned nominations in this category for each of its five seasons but has never won. After its strong, though controversial, fifth season garnered the most total nominations by far (24), this may just be the year it puts everything together for a Best Series win. Orange Is the New Black automatically landed in the Drama category due to Emmys’ new rules which label everything 60 minutes a drama and everything 30 minutes a comedy (Netflix petitioned to have it compete as a comedy but were denied). As such, it seems out-of-place here and would be tough for it to have a legitimate shot. Beyond those four, we have, as HitFix.com’s Alan Sepinwall refers to it, “the usual rubber stamping of past nominees, like Downton Abbey, Homeland, and House of Cards taking up three of the seven drama series nominations.” While Homeland arguably enjoyed a tight, focussed, creative renaissance this past season in the wake of Brody’s departure from the series, I could not agree more that neither Downton Abbey nor House of Cards deserve to be in the running. I enjoy both shows and watch them religiously, but there’s just no way to justify either of them (the former floundering as a self-important soap, and the latter seemingly resting on its prestigious, beautiful, but ultimately ho-hum laurels) taking a slot away from shows like Steven Soderbergh’s The Knick, FX’s brilliantly disturbing The Americans, or the final, masterful season of ever-overlooked Justified. And in terms of the populist vote, it’s hard to argue against a place for FOX’s Empire, which debuted to massive numbers (signalling a resurgence in the power of network drama) and just kept on growing — or even AMC’s The Walking Dead, which enjoys devastatingly massive numbers unheard of for scripted series. Dead is also in the midst of a lean, muscular creative run ever since Scott Gimple took over as showrunner in the fourth season. I would wax poetic all day long about NBC’s Hannibal — the most artistic, surreal, provocative show I’ve ever seen — but it wasn’t eligible for this year’s Emmy voting as its third (and final) season debuted after the May 2015 cut-off. I’ve got my fingers crossed that its brilliant, flawlessly executed finale will still be on voters minds come this time next year… but that’s a long shot.
Projected Winner: Mad Men.
Should Win: Mad Men.
Snubs: The Americans, Justified, The Walking Dead, The Knick.
Outstanding Comedy Series //
Louie, Modern Family, Parks and Recreation, Silicon Valley, Transparent, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Veep.
Winning the past five years in the row, Modern Family comes in as the default favourite — though it would be wonderful if support started to lag (as we’ve seen evidenced by the absence of its usual dominance in the supporting acting categories). In terms of buzz and critical acclaim, Transparent seems primed to be the one to unseat Modern Family. Parks and Recreation would get my vote, much deserved after having never won over the course of its seven years. That said, my vote for pure funny (not to mention smarts) would probably go to the painfully hilarious Silicon Valley, with Veep another strong option. NBC must be frustrated to see Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in the running, having developed and shot the pilot before deciding to drop it — only to watch Netflix scoop it up and position it as a fan favourite and potential Cinderella Emmy story. With the genius of Louie rounding out the seven nominees, it’s tough to find a weak link. It’s a very tough category and (aside from the long-in-the-tooth Modern Family) the winner will be deserving. And while I’m ecstatic that the obnoxiously contrived The Big Bang Theory finally seems to be fading in the voters’ rearview, I just wish that its spot would have gone to the delightful rom-com The Mindy Project, which has been getting better and better over it’s three-season run. But, thanks to Hulu, there’s always next year.
Projected Winner: Transparent.
Should Win: Parks and Recreation.
Snubs: The Mindy Project.
Outstanding Actor (Drama) //
Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Chandler, Kevin Spacey, Jon Hamm, Liev Schrieber, Jeff Daniels.
This category begins and ends with Jon Hamm. It has to. If the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice, Jon Hamm will win for his final, nuanced portrayal of cultural icon Don Draper. That he’s never won for a role that has arguably helped define the Golden Age of Television is absurd. Yes, Bryan Cranston deserved every win he got, and Kyle Chandler deserved to win for his similarly positioned final turn as Coach Taylor on Friday Night Lights, but Jeff Daniels’ win (while I love him and continue to be a staunch defender of The Newsroom) was questionable to say the least. Hamm has consistently played Draper with restraint and subtlety, maximizing every silent look and infusing him with real pathos and humanity. He constructed an icon of American maleness and then deconstructed it beautifully over the final season to reconcile with the human being underneath. This is always a blood-bath of a category and there are always deserving actors who get left out in the cold. Primary amongst these this year is Matthew Rhys, who, like his show The Americans, just can’t seem to get no respect, regardless of how perfect, disturbing, and chilling their third season may have been. In the end, kudos to all of Bob Odenkirk (for a surprisingly dramatic turn in Better Call Saul), Kyle Chandler (for his subtle, honest every-man pushed beyond his limits in Bloodline), Kevin Spacey (for gleefully chewing every piece of scenery on the sets of House of Cards), Liev Schrieber (for his complex, conflicted Ray Donovan), and Jeff Daniels (again, channeling all the frustration, outrage, and emotion we feel on daily basis watching the 24-hour news cycle in The Newsroom), but this award must go to Jon Hamm. The end.
Projected Winner: Jon Hamm.
Should Win: Jon Hamm.
Snubs: Matthew Rhys, Clive Owen, Timothy Olyphant, Michael Sheen.
Outstanding Actress (Drama) //
Taraji P. Henson, Claire Danes, Robin Wright, Viola Davis, Elisabeth Moss, Tatiana Maslany.
Finally, Tatiana Maslany gets the official recognition she deserves for playing so many characters every week on Orphan Black — each clone an entirely new, believable, and real creation. Viola Davis made an immediate impact with her dual intensity and vulnerability in How To Get Away With Murder and I think she’s got the best chance at leaving Sunday night with the award in hand. But beyond both Maslany and Davis, my vote goes to Elisabeth Moss for crafting the indelible, frustratingly real Peggy Olson — arguably the true protagonist of Mad Men. The fact that Mad Men has never won an Emmy in an acting category is absurd, and I’d love to see the tides turn in its final year — especially after Peggy’s memorable, well-earned send-off and one of the best shots in the entire series. I really don’t imagine Claire Danes, Taraji P. Henson, or Robin Wright having a shot — each fine in the contexts of their respective series, but they just don’t compare this year with Moss, Davis, or Maslany. I’d even argue that their nominations should have been given to the extraordinary work done by both Keri Russell in The Americans or Eva Green in Penny Dreadful. Two opposite extremes — the former a picture of nuance, honesty, and masks — the latter an all-in, committed display that somehow made audiences buy into even the most ridiculously over-the-top moments.
Projected Winner: Viola Davis.
Should Win: Elisabeth Moss.
Snubs: Eva Green, Keri Russell.
Outstanding Actor (Comedy) //
Anthony Anderson, Matt LeBlanc, Don Cheadle, Louis C.K., William H. Macy, Will Forte, Jeffrey Tambor
No Jim Parsons! Thank God. That is all.
Projected Winner: Jeffrey Tambor.
Should Win: Jeffrey Tambor.
Snubs: Thomas Middleditch.
Outstanding Actress (Comedy) //
Lily Tomlin, Amy Schumer, Edie Falco, Amy Poehler, Lisa Kudrow, Julia Louis-Dreyfus
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has justifiably dominated for the past three years. She likely will again. And will yet again deserve it. However, my sentimental vote has to go to Amy Poehler for her final year as Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation. Parks has been one of the most consistently funny, emotional, clever comedies over the course of its run and, while it’s fictional town of Pawnee is full of ridiculously quirky characters, Amy Poehler is the beating heart of the series. She deserves the Emmy as much as Louis-Dreyfus and it would be perfect to see her recognized for her immense talent. Speaking of talent, Amy Schumer really separated herself from the pack with her phenomenal and brilliant sketches in Inside Amy Schumer. It proved a game-changer, garnering national attention every few weeks with another genius bit, and landing Comedy Central in key awards consideration. While Lisa Kudrow, Lily Tomlin, and Edie Falco are all fine comedians, there is no reason that the talented writer / performer powerhouse Mindy Kaling should be relegated to the sidelines — again. The Mindy Project is far too good this year to be overlooked and her personal mark on that series makes her snub one of the more egregious in this years list. I’d honestly put her in this category and vote for her ahead of everyone outside of Poehler and Louis-Dreyfus.
Projected Winner: Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
Should Win: Amy Poehler.
Snubs: Mindy Kaling.
Outstanding Supporting Actor (Drama) //
Jonathan Banks, Jim Carter, Alan Cumming, Peter Dinklage, Michael Kelly, Ben Mendelsohn.
Enough, Mr Bates. Enough. The most one-note character in all of television is inexplicably back in what might be the most competitive category in the Emmys. My enjoyment of Downton Abbey is well-documented, but I cannot abide a world in which Jim Carter is nominated while far more interesting, exciting, powerful performances are not. First and foremost, Walton Goggins. Genius. The man is a force of nature and his portrayal of Boyd Crowder on Justified is one of the most wholly original, morally complex, and flat out entertaining villains on television. Not only should he be nominated, but he’d be my unquestioned favourite to win. Thankfully, he’s garnered the attention of Quentin Tarentino, who’s cast the silver-tongued charmer in The Hateful Eight — which I’ll bet will mark the start of a long-running, multi-picture collaboration. Beyond Goggins, Vincent D’Onofrio was equally creepy and compelling in Daredevil, while Mandy Patinkin almost single-handedly brought the soul back to Homeland this year with his bravura performance. Of the actual nominees, Jonathan Banks is maybe the front-runner, riding high and even elevating his game from Breaking Bad. While Peter Dinklage deserved his win last year, he seemed to be sleep-walking through his role this season — though he remained infinitely watchable. Michael Kelly achieved some very strong work this year on House of Cards, but the entire subplot dedicated to his turbulent, tragic recovery proved a bit of a drag on the season’s narrative and might dissuade voters. And last but not least, there’s Ben Mendelsohn. He infused Bloodline with so much life that he made the series better than it ever really deserved to be. He stole every scene he was in, making the most unique choices and line-readings since Michael Emerson back in the day on Lost. I enjoyed Bloodline, but I really have very little desire to watch the second season without him, making Mendelsohn the show’s inarguable MVP. Of the nominees, he gets my vote.
Projected Winner: Jonathan Banks.
Should Win: Ben Mendelsohn.
Snubs: Walton Goggins, Vincent D’Onofrio, Mandy Patinkin.
Outstanding Supporting Actress (Drama) //
Uzo Aduba, Christine Baranski, Emilia Clarke, Joanne Froggatt, Lena Headey, Christina Hendricks.
Christina Hendricks is always fantastic and had a stirring, triumphant ending to her reign as Joan Harris on Mad Men. That said, Lena Headey really deserves the award for humanizing the monster this year in her role as Cersei Lannister on Game of Thrones. She fuelled Cersei with such contempt, hatred, and vitriol, only to pull back the layers this year and reveal the heartbreak and pain which created the character. She forced viewers to feel every step of her journey (figuratively and literally in her jaw-dropping Walk of Shame), the fear inspiring her horrific decisions, and the pain behind her forced humility. Headey is definitely my choice. She put on a masterclass and, had she submitted in the lead category, I could very easily have supported a win for her there too. Notable omissions include Joelle Carter on Justified (who really inhabited the fear, resolve, and cunning of Ava Crowder), Linda Cardellini on Bloodline, and Olivia Munn on The Newsroom (who provided a much-needed comedic touch while nailing the Sorkinese like a true pro and emerging as the series’ break-out star).
Projected Winner: Lena Headey.
Should Win: Lena Headey.
Snubs: Joelle Carter, Linda Cardellini, Olivia Munn.
Outstanding Supporting Actor (Comedy) //
Andre Brougher, Tituss Burgess, Ty Burrell, Adam Driver, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale.
Thankfully this category is no longer dominated by four names from Modern Family. Hard to argue any of the names that have slipped into those spots, and yet, I must. There were so many ingenious characters (and the consummate actors who portrayed them) who went unrecognized that I don’t even want to analyze the actual nominees. Timothy Simons as Jonah Ryan on Veep, Chris Messina as Danny Castellano on The Mindy Project, TJ Miller as Erlich Bachman on Silicon Valley, and the great Nick Offerman as Ron Fucking Swanson on Parks and Recreation. Number of nominations for Offerman playing Ron Swanson? Zero. That, in a word, is fucked. In Ron’s own words, “I still think awards are stupid. But they’d be less stupid if they went to the right people.” Out of those actually up for the award? My money’s on Andre Brougher, but I’d vote for Tony Hale.
Projected Winner: Andre Brougher.
Should Win: Ron Fucking Swanson.
Snubs: Chris Messina, TJ Miller, Timothy Simons, Nick Offerman.
Outstanding Supporting Actress (Comedy) //
Mayim Bialik, Julie Bowen, Anna Chlumsky, Allison Janney, Jane Krakowski, Gaby Hoffmann, Kate McKinnon, Neicy Nash.
Eight nominees named… and they couldn’t find similar additional room in any of the other categories. Get it together Emmys! Trolling us to the very end. 1) I refuse to use up any further word-space on anything to do with The Big Bang Theory. 2) Even though we all (Emmy voters especially) love Allison Janney, I loathe Chuck Lorre and his cookie-cutter laugh-track comedies. She deserves so much better. 3) My vote would sit squarely with either the inimitable Jane Krakowski, who can do no wrong, or Anna Chlumsky for managing to make the only “straight-man” in Selina Meyer’s screwball White House really fucking funny.
Projected Winner: Allison Janney.
Should Win: Anna Chlumsky.
The “Airing Grievances” Section for the Unjustly Overlooked.
The Americans. Keri Russell. Matthew Rhys. What the hell, Emmys! The Americans has been consistently featured on virtually every critic’s list of top shows for each of its three seasons — and there’s a reason for that. It’s incomprehensible that voters won’t recognize what a brilliant, powerful show it is. Even with the glut of exceptional series and performances out there today, The Americans (its cast, writing, and direction) is still a standout. The fact that it only received a single nomination — for Guest Actress Margot Martindale — is ridiculous. And while I love Margot Martindale, the fact that she was nominated for her short, lip-service scene instead of Lois Smith’s haunting episode shows just how little attention voters pay to the show.
The final season of Justified. An absolute masterclass in intricate plotting, poetic writing, intense character work, and suffocating suspense. The epitome of the modern Western. It did Elmore Leonard proud. Timothy Olyphant’s laconic, cool, yet conflicted gunslinger. Walton Goggins’ larger-than-life, cold-as-ice kingpin coming to terms with his role in life. Memorable turns from Jonathan Tucker and the great Sam Elliot. And Graham Yost’s writing team providing, week-in week-out, the best dialogue on television, with nary a shadow of a doubt. Emmys for all involved were more than justified.
Game of Thrones pulled a record 24 nominations, yet it failed to earn one for Miguel Sapochnik’s breathtakingly cinematic direction of the Wildling massacre in Hardhome. Because, the Emmys.
OK. Well. Feels good to get all that off my chest. Thanks for reading! Please do let me know your outrage, dissent, and disgust with whatever I’ve written — I’d love to hear what some of your favourites are, who you think should have been included, and who you think deserves to win on Sunday night. At the very least, let’s hope Andy Samberg keeps the pace going and the laughs rolling. Oh, and that Jon Hamm wins Best Actor. If that happens, I won’t complain about anything else. Promise.